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Cablegate: Central Highlands Ethnic Minority Pastor Free but Rattled

VZCZCXRO0239
RR RUEHHM
DE RUEHHM #0960/01 2610946
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 180946Z SEP 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3120
INFO RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0038
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE 0015
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3328
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 0314
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2180

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000960

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, PRM, AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREF VM
SUBJECT: CENTRAL HIGHLANDS ETHNIC MINORITY PASTOR FREE BUT RATTLED

REF: HCMC 0623

1. (SBU) Summary: Y Ja Nie, a Central Highlands ethnic minority
Protestant pastor arrested on February 12, 2007 (reftel), was
released on August 31. ConGenOffs met privately with Nie and
separately with local officials in M'Drak district, Dak Lak
province, on September 6. According to local government
authorities, Nie was arrested because he had "damaged national
unity" and needed to be re-educated. Authorities did not
recognize Nie's status as a pastor and considered his some of
his activities (religious and non-religious) to be outside the
law. His denomination, the Vietnam Inter-Christian Fellowship
(VNICF) does not yet have GVN recognition at the national level,
and only a handful of congregations have been able to register
nationwide. In contrast to reasons given by local officials,
Nie said he believed he was arrested because he had been
contacted by a Front Unifie de Lutte des Races Opprimees (FULRO)
"exile" in the United States. This person had asked him to
receive and distribute money to the families of seven imprisoned
ethnic minority individuals. We have not yet learned whether
any money was actually transferred. He did not report any
particular problems with either practicing his faith or working
as a pastor. Nie's release after six months of detention may
indicate that the GVN did not perceive his actions to be
especially serious. Post is continuing to monitor his situation
closely, especially because he has asked to be resettled in the
United States. End Summary.

Who is Y Ja Nie?
----------------

2. (SBU) Y Ja Nie, also known as Ama Bin, an ethnic Ede, first
came to Post's attention in December 2006 when he requested a
Humanitarian Resettlement application. Subsequently, as reftel
reports, he was arrested for "involvement with the Dega
movement." A week after his release, ConGenOffs met with him in
his house church. Nie told us that he was on the staff of the
pre-1975 Ministry of Ethnic Minority Affairs, but was too young
to have been in re-education. He became a Protestant with the
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV) in 1973 and joined
the VNICF in 2003. His house church congregation was also
established in 2003 and he became a VNICF pastor in 2004 after
receiving training and passing an exam in Ho Chi Minh City.
Currently his house church has 120 members, although he noted
that attendance had fallen while he was jailed. Nie is also the
Deputy Chief of the VNICF in M'Drak and two neighboring
districts in Phu Yen and Gia Lai provinces. There are a total
of 510 followers in the three districts. All are ethnic Ede and
use the Ede language in their worship. He did not report any
particular problems with the VNICF house churches or among other
Protestants in his area, most of whom belong to the SECV.

How did he get into this mess?
------------------------------

3. (SBU) Nie's sister fled to Cambodia and has been resettled
in Canada (NFI). He has been in touch with her since she
resettled. Nie speculated that she gave his phone number to Y
Duen Bon Dak (phonetic), whom Nie described as an exiled FULRO
member. In June 2006, Dak called him and asked Nie to receive a
bank transfer and distribute the money to the families of seven
ethnic minority prisoners jailed for their involvement with
exiled FULRO members. Nie said he felt it was his pastoral duty
to help the families. However, he believes the contact with
exiled FULRO members eventually led to his arrest. After he was
arrested, he said there were criticism sessions in his community
denouncing his connection to FULRO.

4. (SBU) Before going to Nie's home, we called on the M'Drak
District People's Committee Chairman who told us that Y Ja Nie
was arrested because he had violated the national unity policy
and that he had needed to be "re-educated." The Chairman then
informed us that Nie had been released and that we could visit
him. (Note: We had previously not been aware of Nie's release
and had only asked to meet with his family. End note.)
Initially the Chairman planned to join us for the visit, citing
his desire to ensure Nie "spoke accurately" about his
activities. However, after we noted that our reports are
considered more credible if GVN officials are not involved in
our meetings, the Chairman changed his mind and allowed us to
meet with Nie privately.

A pastor or not?
----------------

5. (SBU) According to the Chairman, Nie is not a pastor and
cannot lead his congregation because his organization (VNICF)
has not yet been officially recognized by the GVN. The Chairman

HO CHI MIN 00000960 002 OF 002


said Nie had only followed Protestantism for "a short time" and
had used local donations for his own personal political
activities. The Chairman stated Nie also had contact with
unspecified "illegal organizations" in the province.

Forced to join the SECV?
------------------------

6. (SBU) In a March 4, 2007 press release, the Montagnard
Foundation (MF) alleged that the GVN was trying to force Nie to
join the "government recognized church" (the SECV). We asked
Nie whether this was true and he responded that he had not heard
of the report, nor had he ever been forced to join the SECV. We
asked whether he was under any current restrictions and he
replied that he knew of none. However, a week after his
release, he did not yet feel comfortable enough to leave the
area of his home. (Note: ConGen's political dissident contacts
often report feeling same sense of 'virtual' house arrest
because their houses are under police surveillance and they are
followed when they leave their homes. End note)

What does this mean?
--------------------

7. (SBU) Nie was far more comfortable discussing FULRO than
most ethnic minorities we have encountered. Nonetheless, his
overall manner was subdued and he admitted that he was
frightened about what had happened to him. We discussed the
status of his Humanitarian Resettlement application and
confirmed that he was still interested in resettling in the
United States.

8. (SBU) Comment: Receiving and distributing money from FULRO
could have led to serious charges and a long prison sentence,
but Nie's release after about six months' detention indicates
that the GVN did not find his "violation of national unity"
serious enough to follow-up with formal charges. Local
authorities do not appear to be infringing on Nie's basic rights
to religious belief, but they are concerned about Nie's
leadership position. Although he may have been acquainted with
the "FULRO exile" who telephoned him, Nie said he had no
previous involvement with FULRO. Though he did not explicitly
say whether he actually transferred money for FULRO, Nie
admitted that he had been naive about the implications of being
a conduit for money from FULRO. The incident shows both the
GVN's ongoing sensitivity to "FULRO" activities and perhaps some
ability to distinguish material threats from humanitarian
gestures.
FAIRFAX

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